A new report released by the AARP Public Policy Institute finds that under a “experimental” poverty measure, older Americans have the highest rates of poverty among three key age groups.
The current official poverty measure, based on consumption patterns from the 1950s, does not take into account the higher health care expenditures of older Americans in poverty, which according to the AARP report is one reason the official measure understates the number of people over 65 who are living in poverty.
“Older Americans living at, below or near the poverty line are some of America’s most vulnerable and are faced daily with lots of tough choices in their everyday budgets and lives,” said AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins.
For the past decade, the U.S. Census Bureau has published estimates of an experimental poverty measure that reflects more modern needs and living standards.
The AARP report finds that under this measure, the poverty rate in 2008 for persons aged 65 or older is 18.7 percent, nearly twice that of the official measure.
The report also found that, between 2001 and 2008, among the three age groups examined (older adults, younger adults and children), older adults had the lowest official poverty rate but the highest experimental rate.
“This analysis suggests that the current official poverty measure is leaving nearly half the older people who are living in poverty out of the equation,” said AARP Executive Vice President John Rother. “Leaders in the non-profit community and in local, state and federal government must explore this disparity to ensure that we are accounting for people who fall outside the official poverty measure but are very likely struggling to make ends meet.”
Key report findings include:
- In 2008, persons aged 65+ were 12.5 percent of the total population. Under the official poverty measure, the older poor were 9.1 percent of the total poor population, but under the experimental poverty measure, the older poor were 15.1 percent. Rates also were higher under the experimental rate for many subgroups of older persons.
- Under the experimental measure, 22.7 percent of persons aged 80+ were in poverty, the highest rate of all age groups
- 21.6 percent of older women and 15 percent of older men were in poverty under the experimental measure, compared to 11.9 percent of women and 6.7 percent of men under the official measure.
- 28.8 percent of older African Americans and 31.5 percent of older Hispanics were in poverty under the experimental measure, compared with 20 percent and 19.3 percent, respectively, under the official measure.
- 25.3 percent of older Asians and others were in poverty. The 12.9 percentage point increase in the experimental poverty relative to the official rate for Asians and others was the largest of any group examined, indicating that a large percentage of older Asian Americans live just above the official poverty line but close to it.
- The experimental poverty rate was 27.5 percent for older persons living alone, 13.1 percentage points higher than for older persons living with others.